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Long-time railroad consultant, passenger-rail engineering expert Banks dies

Considered the "dean of rail transportation consultants" among his contemporaries, Robert L. Banks died March 15 of pneumonia at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 87.

In 1956, Banks founded R.L. Banks & Associates Inc., a transportation planning and engineering consulting firm. He headed the company — most recently as chief executive officer — until his death.

Banks began his transportation career in 1940, joining the New York Central Railroad's passenger department. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Coast Artillery Corps and 542nd Automatic Weapons Battalion. In 1946, Banks returned to the New York Central.

Three years later, he moved to Washington, D.C., and joined the Civil Aeronautics Board as chief of the transport service section. In 1951, Banks transferred to the Air Forces' Air Targets Division at the start of the Korean War and later joined the Central Intelligence Agency.

During his R.L. Banks tenure, Banks testified more than 150 times before congressional committees, federal courts and various regulatory bodies as an expert on railroad, highway, truck, bus and aviation economics and engineering. He also served as a transportation policy advisor and technical counselor to many regionals and short lines, commuter agencies, transit operators, airlines, industries, financial institutions and government.

Banks played a leading role in the nation's passenger-rail renaissance during the 1980s and 1990s, serving as technical advisor to Virginia Railway Express and commuter-rail advisor to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. He later was named to the Railroad Hall of Fame at Baltimore’s B&O Museum.

Banks had a wry sense of humor, an "abiding passion" for Canada and a interest in the history of Louis Riel, who rebelled against the federal government in the Canadian Northwest in the 1800s, according to his son Charles Banks.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Eslyn, two children and two grandchildren.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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